Keeping fit when the heat is on

Keeping fit when the heat is on

“I’m melting!” All of a sudden summer has arrived with a vengeance. The long-unused summer clothes are out of the wardrobe, the fleeces and coats are stowed away and the air is full of the scent of barbecues. It is a great time of year to get fit – but when it is really hot and humid, some changes have to be made.

We have to love our British weather. Less than four months ago we had major snowfalls, but now we have been basking in temperatures around 30 degrees centigrade. While the extreme heat (by UK standards) may not last much longer, the weather forecasters are promising warmth for the next two weeks at least.

For those who have spent the day in the office, once escaped outside it is very tempting to remain on a comfortable chair in the shade, clutching a cold drink. At the end of a long hot day the pub can beckon, and good intentions for an evening walk or run may fall by the wayside. However it is still important to get exercise, whether for weight control or general health.

The human body controls its temperature by various mechanisms. When heat needs to be lost, the main measures taken are increased sweating and diverting more blood to the skin. Sweating cools the body by evaporation – this works more efficiently if there is a breeze. Increased blood flow to the skin allows more heat to be conducted out, and is the reason that we go red if we are too hot.

Because more blood is being diverted to the skin, other organs will function less well in the heat. We all know that it is hard to think straight when we are overheated, but digestion can also be affected. So meals should be lighter and easier to digest in hot weather, and it is even more important than usual not to eat a large meal before exercise.

Choosing the right clothing really matters when the heat is on. This is not the time for fashion sportswear that will cling and chafe. Cotton is cool and comfortable but does tend to absorb sweat, so breathable synthetics may be preferable if it is not too humid. Make sure clothing fits closely if you are using gym equipment or exercise bikes - there should be nothing that can get tangled in machinery. Underwear should also be cotton if possible, and should be substantial enough to prevent riding up.

If you are outside, a hat will also be a vital part of your outfit. Those with thinning or no hair will definitely need to cover up against sunburn, and a wide brimmed hat helps everybody to cope with glare. If you get too hot with a hat on, and have enough hair to prevent a burned scalp, consider a mesh hat or cap with a brim. ‘Foreign Legion’ style hats with a piece of fabric to protect the neck are also a great way to keep cool and shaded, especially for children.

Choose your time of day carefully. Get up early or go out late – make the most of those long summer twilights. If your free time for exercise is limited to the middle of the day, you may need to change what you do. This is where an efficiently air-conditioned gym or a swimming pool really becomes attractive!

Don’t forget the sun protection: the peak UV levels were in late June, but the sun is still strong, and hot temperatures mean fewer clothes to shield skin. Slap on the factor 30 and reapply regularly if you are sweating or swimming. Make sure you choose a sweat-proof suncream for use on your forehead, as otherwise your eyes will be stinging as soon as the cream runs down.

It is very important to keep hydrated: if it is breezy, you will not notice that you have been sweating and can lose a lot of water. This is a particular problem for sailors and other water-sports enthusiasts. The best drink to replace lost water is…water. ‘Energy drinks’, ‘hydration drinks’ and other expensive items are often high in sugar, as well as being rather wasteful. Fill a reusable bottle with good British tap water and keep it in the fridge ready for use.

Eat some salt: if you are very hot and drinking a lot of water, you may find that you start feeling listless. This is your body telling you that it needs you to replace the salt that you lost in your sweat. This is the one time when a packet of crisps can be a very good idea!

When it is really hot, look to your safety – it is perfectly possible to get heat exhaustion or heatstroke in the UK, and these conditions can be life threatening. Don’t struggle on regardless if you are too hot – look after yourself.

Enjoy the good weather!



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